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Fraud Or Freud? tackles the divisive subject of pornography

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I think it’s safe to say that since I began my work with this column I have written on a variety of genres, films, and themes. Most recently I discussed my struggles with the “strong woman” trope and its manifestations in different types of literature and cinema. However, there is one genre that I have yet to discuss with you here that is directly related to film, gender, and sexuality: porn. Uncle F. would say that my avoidance of this topic is no coincidence, that even though I am not consciously deciding to omit porn from my basket of topics (much less fun than a barrel of monkeys, I assure you), my reluctance to discuss the genre signals something juicy in my unconscious. And Freud is probably right, but today that changes, at least here in my little corner of The Monolith.

Those who have met me in a personal and professional capacity are sometimes surprised to learn that, despite my generally sex-positive belief system (our friend Wiki tells us that it is a “social movement which promotes and embraces open sexuality with few limits beyond an emphasis on safe sex and the importance of informed consent,” and for the sake of this article and ease of understanding, I’ll accept this definition), I have a decently conservative stance on porn, especially the kind made by major studios like Vivid and Wicked. Some of the more independent studios are better, some are worse, but right now I’m concerning myself with the mainstream projects featuring the most recognizable actors and most common sets of acts (most of which I consider to be violent).

When I was younger I had a more liberal view. I considered porn a necessary evil: something that was always available and ready, but never really affected everyday people; a genre that spoke to fantasy but not reality; a genre made for men by men. It wasn’t until I took an undergraduate class on erotica that I started to form my current belief system, which is that by studying porn we are able to see the clear development and maintenance of a gender system that actively demands women’s submission and men’s dominance, a system that rewards violent behaviour and the ready receiving of that violence.

Some say that porn exists solely and harmlessly in the realm of fantasy; that we shouldn’t worry about the things we see on screen making their ways into the real world, but we’ve got documented proof this isn’t completely the case. Men have come forward and said that what they watched started to affect them in ways they never anticipated, that their expectations of the female body changed, that they started to feel inadequate in their own sexual abilities, that they started to demand certain behaviours from their partners they never would have dreamed about prior to watching whatever they were watching.

I’m not saying that every person that spends time on X-Tube, RedTube, etc. is a rapist/monster or that couples can’t have enjoyable and incredible sexual relationships because porn is the great destroyer of all things good and pure, but what I am saying is that dudes who came of age with unlimited (or a lot of) internet porn in their teens and very early twenties are showing signs that this type of initiation into sexuality isn’t the best. It hasn’t necessarily given us dudes who are better at fucking their girlfriends; it’s given us dudes who are better at imitating a problematic set of acts and language that they now consider to be normal parts of sexual expression (hitting, berating, being greedy, etc.).

Similarly, women who came of age during the same time are learning to crave dominance (obviously this doesn’t apply to everyone) and sensitive dudes, who once were a prized commodity, are a waste of time because they don’t measure up. Let’s not even get started on what it does to men and women’s self esteem regarding their physical appearances. And yeah, everyone knows someone who says they are immune to all this, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t been affected even the teeniest bit. Even if porn was banned in your house or you refuse to watch it, its absence affects you.

Think about it: parents ban porn, child goes crazy looking for it to see what he or she is missing out on OR child learns to be terrified of sex. Another scene: Girlfriend thinks watching porn is cheating; it makes her feel like she’s not enough for Boyfriend because he feels he needs to watch it when she’s not around so she refuses to let him watch. Girlfriend starts to think the things boyfriend does when he watches are bad and unhealthy, as a result, sex life as a couple is made weird and full of crazy power dynamics because Boyfriend is hiding his habits or really pent up and Girlfriend is anxious.

Clearly not the only options, but you get the idea; this is a cultural force to be reckoned with.

An esteemed colleague and friend sent me this little video about porn versus reality the other day, and it was perfect timing given I was working on this article. Watch below, and think for a second about what I’ve been saying and what you’ve seen:

Consent is an awesome thing and things done with consent can get as crazy as the couple engaging in them want, but I’m not really talking about those who are consent warriors or work really hard to communicate exactly what’s going on. My problem is with an entire genre of film that seems to be showing average dudes that consent is unnecessary or that women want or, worse, NEED, to be dominated by men. And, of course, on the other side of that coin, the genre tells us that men NEED to dominate to feel or be masculine, which is as bad. And there are no easy strategies for this problem.

Do we censor all porn to protect children and teens so they don’t learn this type of sexual narrative? Do we make the regulations of what can be shown in films stronger as to prevent potential effects (like how California is now mandating condoms to be used in porn films, a law that was created after five porn stars tested positive for HIV, a rule that many industry insiders do not agree with)? What do we do as people who grew up with porn to subvert the script that it teaches us to follow? How do we make sexuality healthy when all signs lead to toxic, especially for straight men who watch mainstream porn, read magazines like Maxim, and talk to their friends who watch and read similar things?

Same goes for the young women who see themselves in the mirror and only see “flaws” because they have been fed a steady diet of models with implants, insane sex tips from Cosmo where the subtext is, “you’re never good enough,” and a society that tells them if they voice their opinion they are bitches when men who speak up are strong? Most importantly, can we be critical consumers of erotica (or porn) without having to abolish it or become repressed? In other words, how can we reconcile the shitty truth that a lot of porn is kind of fucked up, but still remain liberated people who don’t fear sex, don’t teach kids to put it on an unfair pedestal, and enjoy it without guilt? A tall order, but something that needs to happen.

Like Freud says, repression is a powerful tool, and if we repress sexuality we are going to see the repercussions of that and they are not going to be good (abstinence only programs in the US are a great example). Perhaps we need to follow Don Draper’s advice when he says, “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” In other words, we need to stop pretending porn doesn’t exist (which I think has what let it get out of hand and insane) and be responsible about what we produce/watch.

teens at computers

How many of us only used our first laptops for homework?

Obviously, there are no quick fixes. I think the best thing we can do is educate ourselves about the media we are consuming (especially the media we sometimes consume a bit too enthusiastically).

Here are some documentaries (all three are on streaming Netflix) and books on porn to check out if you are interested in becoming a principal in your own erotic consumption:

After Porn Ends (2010)

Ever wonder what happens to porn stars after their prime? This excellent documentary will show you.

Inside Deep Throat (2005)

A look into one of the most famous porn films ever made and the controversy it caused in America during the 1970s.

The Price of Pleasure (2008)

A documentary that casts a critical eye on the affect porn brings to our own beliefs about sex and gender.

Dworkin, Andrea. Pornography: Men Possessing Women. New York: Plume, 1991.

Anti pornography activist Andrea Dworkin gives us her case for why porn is always linked with violence and the domination of women.

Jameson, Jenna. How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale. New York: It Books, 2004.

Super porn star Jenna Jameson gives us her account of the industry and her rise to fame. The book was a New York Times Bestseller and gave tons of people an insider view into an industry that many wonder about but few actually see.

Kipnis, Laura. Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998.

Kipnis argues in this book made up of various essays that porn is simply fantasy (albeit a complex one) and we all are too harshly critical, especially feminists who tie porn to rape.

So, you beautiful XY and XX people who read this site, what are your feelings on porn? No need to get personal and tell us all how it’s the best part of your day, but what do you think of the idea that it goes beyond fantasy? Do you buy that thesis or is it just angry propaganda trying to limit freedom of expression?

Let us know!

xoxo,
JF
JaneFraud

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